“The purpose of religious faith is to provide individuals with a system for making meaning and a community in which to celebrate and mourn the major events of our lives: birth, maturity, marriage, suffering, death. But those of us who are victimized by priests are robbed of faith, sometimes permanently. We face all the debilitating effects of childhood sexual abuse in general and the added devastation of a loss of hope, a loss of meaning, a loss of community, and a loss of God.”
(From Hurt to Healing, PublishAmerica, 2004)
One of the first books I read that dealt with sexual abuse by priests was called Slayer of the Soul, by Stephen Rossetti. I found the title terribly true. Since then I have known and shared my story with a local group of fellow victims. Of this group of less than twenty members there have been three deaths in the last seven years. probably all of them suicides.
There is now a national support group for family members of victims who have committed suicide. Since 2002 the numbers of suicides are in the hundreds nationally. Why since 2002? Because that was the year that victims discovered they were not alone, that they belonged to a club with thousands of other members. That was the year that sexually abusive priests came to be understood not as an isolated aberration but as a small but long known, well documented part of church life. That was the year that Catholic victims and their families had to confront a church hierarchy that had enabled the abuse of children and the re-assignment of known pedophiles.
Ironically, many victims had continued as members, often as active members of the Church. But the revelations that confronted them caused a new trauma: the loss of the church they trusted and loved, and often the loss of their faith in the God that Catholicism had presented to them — the slaying of their soul. There is no way to estimate the effect of this re-traumatisation but the numbers of suicides is a strong indicator.